Make a Meaningful Moment: 15 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month at Work
Did you know that there are a variety of ways to engage, educate, and inspire your employees and teams throughout Black History Month? If you’re looking for Black History Month ideas for work – and you want to carry the spirit of learning and inclusion throughout the year – we’ve got you covered.
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What is the history behind Black History Month?
Let’s start with some historical context. Black History Month, the annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history, occurs each year in February in the U.S. and Canada – Ireland and the United Kingdom recognize Black History Month in October.
Established in 1926 by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), Black History Month began in the U.S. as a week-long celebration in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, both of whom played a large part in shaping what became the Civil Rights Movement.
By the late 1960s, due in large part to the growing Civil Rights Movement, the week-long celebration had evolved into a full month. Since 1976, when President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed an annual theme.
The theme for this year’s Black History Month is “Black Resistance.” This month we celebrate Black people across generations whose resilience and courage became a driving force of change and advancement in every aspect of society, all while enduring centuries of trauma and injustices that continue to persist in our world today,
“Black Resistance” explores how the Black community has resisted historic and ongoing oppression in all forms, especially in the racial terrorism of lynching, racial programs, and police killings since the nation’s earliest days.
Why is it important for companies to celebrate Black History Month?
In recent years, attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) has grown at companies across industries and geographies. An estimated $15.4 billion is to be spent on DE&I-related initiatives by 2026 (almost double the $7.5 billion spent in 2020), according to the Global Parity Alliance, an action-oriented cross-industry group committed to advancing DEI globally, within organizations and across the corporate ecosystem.
But progress has been slow – even slower in recent years due to the pandemic. In the past five years, only one in three companies has made progress in executive-team diversity, while shrinking job opportunities disproportionately have affected minorities.
Black History Month is not only about recognizing past achievements, it is also about actively working to continue dismantling barriers Black people are facing, both in and out of the workplace.
What does Black History Month teach us about building more human workplaces?
Black History Month offers the opportunity to educate and learn about Black history and Black culture, to acknowledge and widely celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Americans, and to focus on the issues and disparities that persist in the workplace today while committing to driving measurable change for the future.
It offers lessons in empathy, compassion, and cultural understanding. It brings more humanity into the workplace.
There is still much work to be done to build toward a more diverse and inclusive company culture. And there is no better reminder than exploring the past, present, and future of the Black experience. So let’s look at how your teams can recognize and celebrate Black History this month and all year round.
15 Ways to Honor Black History Month at Work
From supporting Black-owned businesses to honoring Black leaders in history and today, there are many ways to celebrate this month at work. Here, we go over 15 of them.
1. Support Employee Resource Groups
As DE&I becomes more prevalent across organizations, so too are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that work to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with an organization’s values. The groups exist to provide support and help members in personal or career development as well as to create a safe space where employees can share experiences and build connections. Allies may also be invited to join ERGs to support their colleagues.
Whether you’re new to your organization or an existing team member, look for opportunities to get involved in ERG activities. Getting involved may mean participating in events or volunteer opportunities, asking questions and keeping an open mind, telling leaders and other colleagues about the value of ERG work – or simply showing up to listen and learn more. Listening is often one of the best ways of showing support – and this is true during Black History Month as well as all of the heritage months throughout the year.
2. Encourage learning about Black History Month
Inspire your teams to learn more about Black historical figures by highlighting stories and resources somewhere where employees will see them. There’s a trove of material out there, including:
- NYT’s “Black History, Continued”
- National Archives on Black History
- Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture’s Searchable Museum
If your organization has a DE&I ERG, this can be a safe space for people to discuss what’s been shared from different perspectives.
And, if employees have students at home, ask how they’re being taught about this month in school. Educators may use resources like these apps and websites highlighted by Common Sense Education, the History Channel’s Black History Study Guides, lesson plans from the “Black History, Continued” series, or other teacher resources for the month. This could also be great fodder for discussion in a parent-focused ERG.
It’s also a chance to see what your local area or region is doing to celebrate and honor Black History Month, and how your immediate surroundings have been impacted and influenced by Black excellence. Take a team field trip and use the time to forge closer bonds by learning together.
3. Bring in guest speakers
Black History Month is rich with inspirational accounts of countless historical figures who have left their indelible mark on the walls of history, such as:
Bringing in an informed speaker is one of the best ways to educate your workforce on Black history, Black experiences, and Black achievements. They are essential educators during this period – and throughout the year – as they teach organizations how to embrace and celebrate diversity and inclusion.
During the fireside chat, Dr. Claudia and Stephanie spoke openly and honestly about their respective journeys in tech, the barriers they have – and still – face, and how to be your most authentic self in the workplace.
4. Use employee recognition as a driver of DE&I
If your workplace has an employee recognition platform, you can use that as a vehicle to drive larger organizational goals around DE&I initiatives or any activities that support Black History Month.
In today’s workplace, having an employee recognition platform at work is imperative for nurturing feelings of inclusion and belonging among all employees, and especially people of color.
In fact, after one year in a recognition program, Asian, Black, and Hispanic employee turnover dropped 20% and turnover among women dropped 17%, according to Workhuman recognition data across 712,000 employees.
5. Create a safe space for employees to ask questions
With ERGs becoming a mainstay in the corporate world – especially at companies that value DE&I – it paves the way for open and honest discussions across the organization.
It’s important to allow employees to voice concerns and raise issues anonymously, and ERGs often provide a safe space for employees to do so. It’s equally important for employees’ psychological safety, however, for an organization’s leadership team to demonstrate trust and accountability when responding to these concerns.
Ask Me Anything (or AMA) style formats, typically conducted virtually, allow the audience to ask questions on a wide variety of topics. They can be effective in a workplace setting, as they allow for open and honest dialogue about topics that may not have been broached in the past.
6. Host a book club
Nothing fosters empathy like a compelling story. Starting an in-person or virtual book club company-wide or within an ERG is an engaging way to create more workplace allies and encourage more learning about Black history year-round. There are countless titles by Black authors, fiction and non-fiction, that are must-reads for Black History Month and beyond. And there are also countless lists of recommendations. Here’s one of them.
And what happens after everyone reads the book(s)? The hallmark of any book club is the discussion that follows. For a meaningful, structured dialogue, consider hiring a facilitator or letting a qualified employee lead the group.
7. Read more works by Black authors
Sharing, reading, and promoting literary works by Black authors in general is key. The more diversity in a person’s reading, the broader their perspective becomes. Check out Reedsy’s 70 Must-Read Black Authors in 2023.
8. Be inclusive of everyone
When thinking about Black History Month ideas for work, it’s important to remember to be inclusive of everyone. This means making sure that everyone is invited to participate in any planned activities, which may mean offering both virtual and in-person options for a hybrid workforce (and being cognizant of different time zones).
It’s also important that you do not put the responsibility on your Black employees to plan the events for Black History Month. Instead, put together a voluntary committee to organize the activities or, better yet, coordinate activities with existing ERGs – chances are they have already planned activities and it’s an opportunity for you to get involved.
9. Support Black-owned businesses
To support Black History Month, send employees or customers gifts from Black-owned businesses in your area using the Shop Black Owned site. In fact, this is something to promote throughout the year. You can also support local Black-owned businesses by sharing information with employees on your company’s communication channels or within ERGs. You can also support Black-owned restaurants, Black artists, and Black music.
10. Harness the power of social media
One of the best ways to amplify Black voices is across social media. Whether this comes through the company’s social or individual social media accounts, you can create powerful social posts that celebrate Black History Month with stories and experiences.
Last year, Workhuman introduced the idea of “decolonizing social media feeds.” The concept was simple: The DE&I ERG put together a list of different Black social media creators, spanning all categories and interests (Black artists, bloggers, bakers, etc.), for Workhuman employees to follow. The idea was to become more mindful about who to follow and provide exposure to different perspectives; in effect “decolonizing” the institutionalized racism and unequal power dynamics that bleed into our online world.
11. Educate yourself on DE&I in the workplace
The workplace has become a platform for social change, and indifference has long been an obstacle to such change. The movement around DE&I is happening whether businesses are ready for it or not, so it’s best to be as informed as you can about what sustainable DE&I practices look like and why many other initiatives fail to make an impact.
Strategic employee recognition amplifies all voices equally and promotes inclusion by shining a spotlight on the achievements of others and increasing visibility into historically overlooked employee populations.
And with visibility into recognition data, companies can uncover the right root causes versus symptoms, creating actionable strategies to build a workforce where the strength of our collective differences creates unstoppable teams that drive business goals and inspire social progress.
Workhuman regularly publishes content on the topic of DE&I, including our recently launched Back to Basics video series, which delves into the essential elements of the human workplace with people and thought leaders who live, study, and write about how the ways we work are evolving.
12. Donate to organizations supporting Black communities
A Corporate Social Responsibility arm or DE&I team brings the potential to make big donations to worthy Black History Month causes. A myriad of non-profits are dedicated to racial justice. Here are just a few:
13. Seek out volunteer opportunities
A team volunteer day not only helps your community, it also strengthens the bond between employees and opens the door for lasting corporate partnerships. There are also national, Black-led organizations like these that offer ways for organizations and their employees to get involved:
14. Explore mentorship opportunities
While Black History Month often champions those Black leaders who have made a great impact on American history, it’s important to remember to celebrate future Black leaders. Adults have the opportunity to co-create solutions and spaces that best serve Black youth both now and as they grow into adulthood.
During Black History Month, create an avenue for employees to use their skills and experience for good by becoming a mentor to at-risk and underserved youth. Organizations like MENTOR affirm that Black lives matter, Black mentors matter, and Black mentees matter. Similar to ERGs, MENTOR helps build and sustain a mentoring movement that cultivates quality relationships, where Black mentees and mentors are heard and supported.
15. Make a commitment to DE&I throughout the year
Most importantly, we must remember that while learning about Black History Month is critical, taking action in the ongoing fight for social justice is even more so.
A few questions to ask yourself: What impact can you make as an individual to progress DE&I at your organization? How can you continue with the spirit of inclusion during Black History Month throughout the year?
McKinsey research, which has followed the trajectories of hundreds of companies since 2014, shows that most organizations have made little DE&I progress and are stalled or even slipping backward.
But the organizations that are making impressive gains in diversity and inclusion are those that are adopting systemic, business-led approaches to DE&I, including building robust business cases tailored to the needs of the individual organization, evidence-based targets, and core-business leadership accountability.
Frequently Asked Questions
Black History Month is a time to honor Black history and recognize key figures from our past and present. It’s an opportunity to celebrate and spotlight the achievements and triumphs of Black Americans, despite centuries of racism and oppression.
Black History Month in the UK takes inspiration from the American movement, but there is a clear distinction as it focuses solely on the Black British experience. It was first celebrated in the UK in October 1987, on the 150th anniversary of Caribbean emancipation.
In 2023, the theme for Black History Month is Black Resistance. This theme honors and recognizes the resistance to the historic and ongoing oppression of Black Americans.
Previous Black History Month themes include:
- 2022: Black Health and Wellness
- 2021: The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity
- 2020: African Americans and the Vote
- 2019: Black Migrations
- 2018: American Americans in Times of War
- 2017: The Crisis in Black Education
Carter G. Woodson first set out in 1926 to designate a time to promote and educate people about Black history and culture. Woodson envisioned a week-long celebration to encourage the coordinated teaching of Black history in public schools, and he galvanized fellow historians through what is now the ASALH.
For too long, Black history has been overlooked, minimized, and even erased within the context of American history. But there’s no question that the contributions of Black people across generations have influenced every part of how we live today.
Celebrating Black History Month involves raising awareness about the achievements of Black Americans throughout history – and this includes taking the time to observe the month in the workplace.
One of the best ways to recognize Black History Month at your organization is to openly discuss and embrace racial and cultural differences, which can, in turn, boost psychological safety and employee engagement. And, in the spirit of inclusivity, everyone across the organization should be encouraged to participate with enthusiasm.
What Black History Month ideas for work have you been activating on? What Black History Month activities would you add to our list?
Diversity & Inclusion, Employee Experience
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